Archives for January 2014

How are those intentions working out?

On 31st December I posted about my intentions for 2014. My intentions were low-key and written in a ‘let’s not get too worked up over this’ fashion, so as not to set myself up for failure, self-loathing, disappointment etc. So how, one month in,  am I doing? Well, actually, it’s going quite well. I’ve produced more than my target of an average of two blog posts per week, somewhat to my surprise. I’m finding it’s one of those tasks that I don’t exactly look forward to, but once I get cracking I’m fine.

My second intention is working out well. I’m writing down each day what I do that’s in any way creative, and I’ve been able to write something in for every day but one. Don’t know what went wrong on that particular day, but never mind. Probably I’ve done more than I thought I would which is good as it will help to balance those days, and I’m sure there will be many, when I just don’t get round to it.

The third intention of not working so much is a bit longer-term as I can’t just drop things that I’ve promised to do. The key action is to not promise to do them in the first place. And the fourth intention of sticking with the low-carb diet that I’ve already been on for months is a breeze because I was quite sure that I was going to do this anyway. (So it’s a bit of a cheat, really). Onward and upward. Let’s see what February brings.

What I’m stitching right now

A couple of weeks ago I posted about a layered stitch sample that I’d completed. It was inspired by seeing the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern. I was pleased with the technique and thought I’d take it a bit further into a larger piece and got cracking straight away. I’m nowhere near completing it, but I thought I’d show you progress to date.Layered fabric sample

The plan is to have the main area of bright colour placed towards the centre of the sample, with duller greyscale colours on the outside. However, I’ve found previously that these plans can be deceptive; you select a set of rather sombre colours, but then put them together and suddenly by some magical process the finished piece seems a positive riot of colour. The pale green in the foreground looked grey when I selected it, but now it’s definitely green. It seems to me sometimes that the subject of colour is just inexhaustible and that I’ve done no more than nibble at the remotest edges of it. Still, like most things that are worth doing, it’s not likely to be easy.

The next photo, below, shows the same work from a different angle. Layered fabric sample - close upThe colour that looked pale green in the first photo now looks much more washed out and grey. You just can’t be sure of anything, but I’d have to say the first photo looks more accurate to me. I’ll keep plugging away at this – there are still some quite large areas to stitch, and I’m enjoying the process.


It’s taken me a while to come round to Pinterest but now I’m quite the enthusiast. I’ve been impressed by the boards that some talented people have put together, so a few days ago I decided to have a go myself. So far I’ve put together two boards: Yellow Ochre and Chromatic Grey and I’m full of ideas for others. It’s (obviously and duhhh for not spotting it earlier) a very good way of keeping an ordered record of things that you find particularly impressive. And of course, there’s no end to the possible themes and combinations. Pinterest logo

Working on these boards has been completely absorbing. If you’ve not tried Pinterest, do have a look.

How easy is it to get set up on Pinterest? Well, fairly; I’d have to say it’s not completely straightforward. Trying to import a picture for my header was not easy. I made several attempts, checked out the help function and discovered that this is a common problem, so then decided to abandon the attempt for the time being. Next time, I looked,however, there was the picture in the header. It actually worked but looked as though it didn’t. I had a very similar problem with trying to get Pinterest to recognise this website address. Having eventually abandoned the attempt, I then discovered that it had worked after all.

But now that I’m set up finding my way about on Pinterest is easy and intuitive. Wish I done it ages ago.

I’ve added a Pinterest icon on my home page (right hand side) so you can click on that any time if you want to see what I’ve been up to.

Woven cloth sample

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a woven cloth sample. I made this using indigo- and madder-dyed cloth. This allows you to make a small amount of cloth go a good deal further so it’s good for large scraps. I assembled it by weaving the coloured strips in with some plain white, and then incorporating a few oddments to fill up gaps/add a bit of interest at the edges. Once I’d put together something that I thought looked quite interesting I tacked it to a base of lightweight calico to hold it all together. Then I just set off embroidering bits and pieces without thinking too much about what I was doing, just to see what would happen.Woven cloth sample

This has been with me for a while. I’ve embroidered it on train journeys, as a passenger in the car and picked up at home in odd moments. It’s nice to have an on-going, not very serious project, to pick up and put down. But I think I’ve now done as much as I want to on this, and I’m going to move on to something else. While I’ve been working on this, over several months, I’ve been reading Jude Hill’s Spirit Cloth blog, and I’m sure I’ve been influenced by what she does, although I’ve not been trying consciously to copy. But I think it’s worth acknowledging her work which is very beautiful.

One of the habits I got into when doing the City & Guilds courses was to ruminate, once I got to the end of something, about what I might have done differently. The conclusion on this one doesn’t require a lot of rumination. I realised straight away when I started it that I’d made a bit of a blunder with the materials. Most (not all) of the cloth you see in the photograph is taken from an old cotton sheet (lace edging just visible over on the left hand side) which I’ve cut up to dye. The weave is pretty tight and it’s been very hard work getting the needle through two layers plus calico. So I won’t do that again. The cotton will be fine for anything that requires machine stitching but handstitching is just too demanding.

I suppose the squares (rectangles, really) could be a little bit of a homage to Paul Klee (see previous posts) but actually I started this piece long before I went to that exhibition. What it does reflect is my long-standing attraction to grid forms. I just love those squares and grids.

Next photo is a close-up detail of the same piece, included mostly because I’m having a good time taking close-ups with my new camera.Woven cloth sample close up

Blue and orange are complementary colours, and I chose these quite consciously. Of the classic complementary pairings it’s my least favourite. I don’t know that it works particularly well here, but another mistake I think I made was in using the harsh white for interweaving. Well, next time I put a woven piece together I can reflect on these mistakes and try to avoid them.

Pinning images from my website and blog

I’ve noticed that a few of my images have been pinned on Pinterest. That’s fine by me. In fact, I’ve even downloaded a plugin that places a Pin It button on my images. If you hover over any image it should grey out and you’ll see the button. If you don’t want to see the button just move the mouse away.Pin It button If you want to pin something click on the button and it should bring up the interface with Pinterest (I’ve tested it and it seems to work from where I’m sitting).

I’m planning to get busy on Pinterest myself as soon as I find a chunk of time to put into it. When I first noticed Pinterest I wasn’t sure what it was for. But I’ve seen some wonderful Pinterest boards and I’m enjoying looking at  sets of images collected by someone with taste and imagination. I can see, though, that it’s another really effective way to waste some time….


Well done me

Today it’s three months since I published my first blog post. When I started this I was curious to see how long I’d keep it going as I’ve read that most blogs fold or are abandoned within three months of starting. So I thought if I got to three months I’d be doing OK. Moreover, I’ve pretty much kept pace with my original intention of posting at least twice a week (allowing myself a week off at Christmas). So well done me. Fortunately I’d read enough about blogging to understand that I’d be unlikely to get any comments for a long time (if ever), apart from spam. (My blog seems to have been colonised by French spammers, most of them flogging luxury goods. However, the excellent spam filter takes care of them). Knowing this I have not been too dismayed by the almost total radio silence from any genuine readers. Google Analytics has been a big help in keeping me going, because I know that there are people out there who are looking at this regularly, and that each week brings some new people to the site. Some of them look only once, and then are gone, but some stay. To all of you who are reading this – thanks.

More on learning to draw

Last month I wrote about learning to draw using Betty Edwards’ book on the subject. This post is about what I’ve done since I worked my way through that book.

It’s a bit lonely working away on your own, and my next move was to try to find a class. Blackburn College, not far from here, had at the time a good range of part-time courses (these days there’s not so much available). I started on a life-drawing course; three hours every Thursday evening of drawing and sometimes painting from a real live model. It was fabulous. I did the same course two or three times, interspersed with something called ‘Open College of the North West’ which is a kind of A Level equivalent, but for adults, and then moved on to City & Guilds Level 2 painting. The formal titles of the courses didn’t matter too much to me; I went for the experience and the outstanding tuition. Blackburn College is an old-fashioned place, and I mean this in a very good way, in that it never abandoned life drawing, even when almost every other college ditched it. So they have a long tradition of teaching drawing. The tutors are excellent: take a bow, Mark Edmundson and Richard Cross. I learned lots from them both. The painting below is one of Richard’s.Richard Cross - Two Mirrors

My other main experience of going on courses has been taking life-drawing classes in London with Rachel Clark. She is another brilliant teacher: critical, encouraging, rigorous and dedicated. She has been running courses for many long years, and I went to several. I’ve not been for a while, although Rachel assiduously keeps me up to date with the details. The courses are relatively expensive (although definitely worth it) but the problem if you live outside London is that you have to add in the cost of staying in London for up to four days, plus the cost of travel, in my case from the North-West of England to London. (Note to readers outside the UK who haven’t visited: the inter-city train fares here are larcenous). So it all adds up.

The other thing I’ve done that everyone should do, if they want to draw and improve their drawing, is to, well, just draw. But I know that I haven’t done enough of it. Life and, especially, work just keep getting in the way. A daily commitment to drawing would be the way forward, if I could just bump it up my list of priorities. Ah, well, tomorrow is another day.

Layered fabric sample

Here’s a layered fabric sample I’ve been working on over the last three days. It’s small – around 9cm x 9cm but even so, there’s quite a lot of stitching in it.Layered Fabric Sample

The base is lightweight calico with small pieces of other fabrics laid on top of it: white cotton organdie, silk organdie (grey/silver), a small piece of Indian brocaded fabric (bottom left hand corner) and over it all a very sheer piece of black organdie. I basted these layers together and then embroidered little blocks of satin stitch all over the surface. The idea for this came from – who else – Paul Klee. One of the many techniques he experimented with was a kind of pointillisme where he covered the surface of a painting, not with dots, but with little blocks of colour. The effects he achieved with this are quite amazing. Here is an image of one of his best-known works: Ad Parnassum (1932), which uses the block painting technique.Ad Parnassum by Paul Klee

This is actually a very big painting by Klee’s standards so the photo doesn’t really do it justice. I should add that I’ve not seen this particular painting; unfortunately it’s not in the Tate Modern exhibition. But I hope you see the point, and see what I was trying to do in this tiny sample. I’ve used very sombre colours in the black/grey range (apart from the yellow, of course), and maybe next time I sample this technique I’ll go for something a bit more colourful.

Finally, here’s a close-up of my sample:Layered Fabric Sample - Close up


Paul Klee: second visit

Last Thursday, as planned, I made a second trip to Tate Modern to see the Paul Klee exhibition. It’s not often I get the opportunity to go and see a big exhibition for a second time, but from the limited experience I’ve had of doing this, I think it’s well worth while taking a second or even third look at something that really appeals to you. A few years ago, for reasons too tedious to explain, I spent a week in Toronto with very little to do. I soon sought out the Art Gallery of Ontario and spent several hours each day in there looking at their outstanding exhibits. I realised that repeated exposure to the same artworks was a really effective way of getting to know them. A potentially rather grim week in a strange city turned into a quite magical experience.

Well, mustn’t lose my thread… This time at the Paul Klee I didn’t feel obliged to try to look at all the paintings but instead homed in on the ones I’d particularly liked last time. I spent longer looking at them, and I looked at them in a more systematic way. Here’s a picture that I really enjoyed seeing again:Fire in the evening by Paul Klee

This is ‘Fire in the evening’ from 1929. The fire is depicted, I guess, in the slightly off-centre red rectangle (almost but not quite a square) which is almost supernaturally visible from quite a distance. When you get closer up you start to appreciate the more sombre colours of the rectangles that surround it. And this is the thing that most struck me on this visit: the variation and quality of the less obvious colours. There is such a vast range of striking colours in this picture alone – subtle pinks and mauves and greys and greens… and so on. I think there’s a textile-like quality here, and you can appreciate the influence Klee must have had upon Bauhaus textiles designs.

This and other paintings made me want to get home and start experimenting with muted shades of colour. Klee used a huge range of shades, and they are beautifully put together. I’ve had a busy weekend working and am looking at another busy week ahead so time available for playing around with colour is strictly limited, unfortunately. However, one of the items in my busy week to come is another trip to London when I will be staying on the South Bank, just, as it happens, around the corner from Tate Modern. So it’s just possible that I’ll be going for a third visit to the Paul Klee…. Watch this space and I’ll report back if I do.


Basic equipment for natural dyeing

I’ve blogged about some of the results of my experiments in natural dyeing, but haven’t said anything much about the basic equipment that I use. So here’s a brief post about dyeing equipment, where I sourced it, and how much it cost. When I started doing this I had two principal objectives: to keep the equipment down to a minimum (it all takes up space) and to keep the costs down. A really important health and safety point about all this is that you have to keep the dyeing process and equipment completely separate from your domestic cooking. This means keeping separate vessels for dyeing and having a source of heat away from the domestic cooker. Equipment for natural dyeIn the photograph below you can see the equipment I’ve assembled. The pan on the left has been on the top shelf in the pantry for years, never used, so was an obvious candidate for this purpose. This is the pan I use for the dyeing process itself, scrubbing it out between colours. The pan on the right was used by my son at university but has remained unused since he left, and he has kindly donated it for use in dyeing. I use this pan for mordanting (I’ll write about the mordanting process in a future post).

The rubber gloves are useful for keeping the dye powder away from your skin and for using when rinsing through dyed fabrics. Underneath the pan on the left is my electric hotplate, and my main investment in equipment. It cost around £19 from Amazon plus postage. Other investments are two wooden spoons (around £1 each), one used for mordanting and one for dyeing, a silicon mat to put the hot pan on, and a couple of plastic measuring spoons. Total investment a bit over £25. This is really about all I need. If you don’t have any old pans lying unused around the house or a helpful relative to donate them, you could try sourcing them from charity shops.

The array of equipment is minimal compared to some of the illustrations you get in textbooks, but it’s not worth spending a fortune on new stuff, especially if you’re not sure that you’re going to take to natural dyeing. This is pretty much all I need, although at some stage I might invest in a cheap sieve which would be useful for straining liquid off when I’m using natural materials. So far I’ve mostly used dye extracts, although I did experiment last summer with rhubarb leaves and will shortly have a go with onion skins which I’ve been collecting for several months. More on that experiment in due course.